A Moment Given – 5 (by Calim11)

Summary: Part of the “A Moment” series and What Happened Next for the episode “Vengeance”
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:   6550


Sheriff Roy Coffee had to blink twice, then twice more. He whipped off his glasses, rubbed his tired eyes, and looked again.

“Well, I’ll be,” he muttered, a smile creasing his mustached lip. Quickly scratching out a short note, he stood and reached for his hat and gunbelt. This type of information needed to be delivered in person. “Dooley!” he called, seeing his young deputy stick his face around the door. “I’m goin’ ta the Ponderosa.”

“What’s wrong, Sheriff?” Roy’s smile grew wider.

“Not a dang thing. I need ya ta send this here telegram. Tell Percy it’s mighty important.” Doffing his hat, he attached his gunbelt as he headed for the door. “Hold down the fort while I’m gone and don’t go shootin’ nobody neither lessen ya ain’t got no choice.”

“Yessir.”

With that, Roy was gone. Dooley Phelps moving toward the front window to watch his boss hotfoot it down the street toward the livery. “I ain’t seen him that lively since the Hoad1 family was near abouts,” he whispered to himself, propping his broom against the wall and hightailing it to the telegraph office.

*****

“I hear tell that someone saw Red Twilight over Genoa way,” Hoss Cartwright stated, leaning on the rope that held a large log ready to be laid on the waiting wagon.

His brother, Joe, snickered at him as he dug hooks into the wood and eased it into its proper location. “Where’d you hear that?” he asked wiping his sweaty brow with the back of his arm.

“Henry Gardner’s General Store,” Hoss answered tossing up a canteen to his brother.

“Best place to hear gossip,” his older brother, Adam, interjected as he walked past headed for the lean-to a few paces away. Tossing his hat onto the table and laying down the clipboard he’d been using, he reached for a rolled up map.

“That’s all it is – gossip,” Joe called out.

“I wouldn’t be too sure, Joe,” Hoss answered. “I heard many things from Henry Gardner’s store that was true.”

“Well, I heard the boys in the bunkhouse saying they thought they saw Red last month riding through the hills,” Joe came back. “Don’t mean it’s true.”

“How do ya know it ain’t?” Hoss asked.

“ ’Cause I also heard that Tom Bell2 is still robbing stagecoaches and someone spotted Robin Hood in the trees outside of town.” Hoss looked at his brother as Joe shook his head. “Don’t mean it’s true,” he finished with a smile.

“I guess,” Hoss finally acquiesced not sounding sure at all.

“Why’re you worried about that anyway?” asked Joe looking at his brother with concern.

“It just kinda got ta me when I heard that. I don’t know why.”

“It’s because it’s too close to home, Joe,” Adam piped up. “Just because Red’s in jail doesn’t mean he’s out of here.” He poked at his own head then returned to jotting down numbers.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Hoss said with a nod. “And it still rankles me that the jury took so long ta decide. Adam, what’s them two words again?”

“Circumstantial evidence.”

“That’s it. Our word agin his.”

“And there was Harold Pinsett,” Adam added.

“That snake!” came their father’s voice from out of nowhere. “Why are you talking about him?”

“Hoss heard that someone spotted Red Twilight in Genoa,” Adam explained as he handed the clipboard to his father. Browsing through the figures, he nodded and handed it back.

“And I heard Tom Bell was still robbing stagecoaches,” Ben smiled as he looked at his boys.

“Aw, Pa,” Hoss said.

“Don’t you worry on it, son,” Ben started casting a glance toward Hoss. “Red’s in jail and that’s where he’s going to stay. Now, I want to talk about something much more appealing.”

“Like letting us off early?” Joe suggested as Ben ignored him taking them all in.

“We’ve all been working awful hard these past few months, getting everything in order and ready for the coming winter. I think we need a vacation.”

“A vacation?” Adam said surprise all over his face. “For as long as I’ve known you, Pa, that word’s never come out of your mouth.”

“Yeah, Pa, what’s up?” Hoss asked pushing his hat back on his head.

“Well, it occurred to me that we might need a change of scenery. Sometimes a man just needs to see other things, experience what other people have. It makes what we have better somehow.”

“Are you talking about going to Denver, Pa?” Joe asked, a touch of excitement to his voice. He’d just read about the new high class saloons they’d just opened with girls, girls, girls!

“Or San Francisco?” Adam added. “That new opera house is opening in a few weeks and . . .”

“No, no,” Ben said holding up his hands to stave off any other suggestions. “I’m thinking a bit closer to home.”

“Well, where, Pa?” Hoss asked curiosity getting the best of him.

“Bud Turley’s,” came the answer. Adam blanched.

“Bud Turley’s?” Hoss repeated a smile coming to his face. “I ain’t been out ta Bud’s in a coon’s age.”

“Bud Turley’s,” came from Adam as he backed up a step, his own excitement over a possible trip to San Francisco crashing into little mounds of dust.

“Bud has the best horseflesh this side of the Rockies,” Joe said his eyes beginning to flash with eagerness. “Do you suppose he’d let us buy some of his stock, Pa?”

“I don’t see why not. Bud is, after all, a businessman.”

“When do we leave?” asked Hoss.

“Well, I was thinking the end of the month.”

“End of the month?” Adam chimed in, a pleading sound to his words.

“What’s wrong with that, Adam?” Joe asked wondering why his brother seemed to have lost some color in his normally tanned face.

“It’s just . . . just around the corner,” Adam finished lamely.

“Exactly,” Ben said slapping his oldest on the arm. “I figured it would only take us about three to four days to get there, we could stay a few weeks or as long as Bud can stand us, and three to four days to get home. We should beat the snow by a month.”

“A few weeks,” Adam mumbled as he sat down rubbing his forehead.

“Yeah,” Joe said. “We should be done with the timber contracts by then.”

“And Charlie can move the cattle ta the winter pasture if’n the weather turns afore we get back,” Hoss added.

“That’s what I was thinking. Hop Sing can have the run of the ranch or he can come with us. Between us, I’m thinking he’ll probably want to stay home alone for a change.”

“I’ll bet,” Hoss grinned. They were all excited. So excited they hadn’t even noticed Adam hadn’t said a word but sat mutely at the makeshift table fidgeting with a ruler.

Adam finally cleared his throat. “Ah, I think I’ll stay home with Hop Sing, Pa. There’s still lots to do before winter sets in and I don’t mind staying home and working the books and taking care of moving the cattle.”

“Oh, no,” Ben answered leaning over to look his oldest in the eye. “You’re coming with us. No use going off to have fun unless all of us are there.”

“Fun,” Adam said without enthusiasm.

“Yes, fun.”

“You always said you had fun at Bud’s,” Joe began. “Why I remember . . .”

“No,” Adam began cutting Joe off at the pass. “Pa always said I had fun. I’ve never had fun at Bud’s.”

“But last time . . .” Joe tried again.

“Last time that madman nearly killed me!”

“He did not,” Ben said sounding a bit perturbed at the thought.

Adam turned on him. “Yes he did, Pa. Bud loves to see how much pain I can take.”

Ben looked at his eldest and raised a brow. “If I remember correctly it was you who boasted you could chop down ten trees in an hour,” he confronted.

“Well . . . that may be but I was coerced,” Adam declared pointing a finger at his father. “I was coerced by you and Bud. I damn near had a tree knock me clear to China and all I heard as they pried me out from under it was Bud laughing and asking you to pay up. No thanks, Pa. I’M-NOT-GOING!”

Adam’s voice was firm and hard, each word expressed with determination as he tossed the ruler down on the table for show. He could still remember walking funny for a couple of weeks after the tree incident, as it became known, and he wasn’t planning on walking funny again.

Hoss noted the stern looks shared between father and brother and decided to ease the situation. “Ah, Pa,” he began, fully remembering how stove up his brother was for weeks after the tree incident. “Adam don’t havta go if’n he don’t want too.”

Ben held up a hand never taking his eyes from his oldest. “Adam, please don’t make me remind you of your promise to me that you would always go with me to Bud’s . . . until the sun refused to shine.” He smiled then, a sickening smirk.

Adam’s lips pursed and his eyes narrowed, followed by an inward groan. Damn!

Adam knew those words would come back to haunt him as he’d suffered through his first visit to Bud Turley’s that last year before he left for school. How could his father do that to him? Pa had warped the meaning of those words. He’d meant that it was good to spend precious time with his father before he had to leave. Obviously his command of the English language at that point in his life left a lot to be desired. He picked up the ruler again and began tapping it against the table.

 And how could he remember word for word?!

“Did you really say that, Adam?” Joe asked trying, but not very hard, to keep the laughter out of his voice as Adam shot him a warning glare.

“It was our first trip up there,” Ben corroborated looking from Hoss to Joe, folding his arms across his chest, “right before Adam went away to college. I knew he was getting worried about leaving and I thought the trip would do him good; something to hold onto when he was in Boston. After a few days of silence on the trail, I suggested we go home and spend time with the whole family instead but he shook his head no and made that statement.” He turned back to his oldest not trying to hide the amusement at his son’s current predicament. “I never thought I’d have to bring it up again.”

“Is it true, Adam?” Hoss asked his brows lifted up high. “Come on, ‘fess up.”

“Why should I?” Adam finally said scowling at Ben. “Pa seems to remember everything. He’s like an elephant.”

Moving hands to his hips, Ben tried again. “Did you or did you not say that?” His deep voice held a light but commanding tone.

Adam cast a glance at his brothers then back to his father, running a hand along his neck. There was no getting out of this one unless he up and died right there and he didn’t plan on doing that just yet. He sighed. “Yessssss,” finally came out as a hiss through clenched teeth, the muscles along his jaw working double time as his brothers started to giggle. He raked Ben with a hard glare. “You are a conniving old coot.”

“Guilty as charged. So what do you say?”

Ben waited then, waited until the dark receded from his eldest’s eyes and some of the hazel returned, waited until the millions of reasons rushing through his son’s head were all sorted and discarded, waited until the pent-up heavy breath slowly escaped through pursed lips, and he knew he had him.

Giving his father one last look, Adam turned away and nodded, a disgusted look on his face. He hated getting caught in the tangle of his own words.

Ben’s smile lit up the world and he slapped Adam on the shoulder.

“This is gonna be fun,” Hoss said practically jumping for joy.

“Yeah, about as fun as stepping into a hornet’s nest,” Adam mumbled.

“What was that?” Ben asked, catching Adam as he smacked down the ruler again.

Startled, Adam reached for his hat. “Ah, I said I’ve gotta go give Charlie the okay to start on the south ridge or we won’t be ready to leave on our wonderful trip. See you at dinner.” With that, he pulled Sport’s reins from the post, mounted and rode off without a backward glance.

“Yer just plain bad, Pa,” Hoss said with a shake of his head as he watched his brother depart.

“What? Me?” Ben innocently asked.

“Ya know Bud does him in each time he goes up there. One a these days . . .”

“Oh, don’t let Adam fool you. He’s like a little boy when he goes up there.”

“A little boy with bumps and bruises.”

“I love it when Adam bites off more than he can chew,” Joe said with a giggle. “It makes him more like the rest of us.”

“Well, you might be disappointed, Joe,” Ben said, sitting down at the rickety table and picking up a pencil. “Adam gives as good as he gets.”

“I cain’t wait. I ain’t been up ta Bud’s since . . . well, it was that pig race five summers ago. Do you remember that, Joe?” Hoss asked watching as Joe’s smile slowly faded. “Ya know, I’m bettin’ ol’ Bessie Turley will be lookin’ fer someone ta race pigs with.”

“Oh, now hold on,” Joe spoke up holding out his hands. “When Bessie was ten, she was bigger than I am now.”

“Ah, Joe, she’s just big-boned. Nice gal. Can rope and ride like the rest of us.”

“Then you take her on. Not me.”

“Joe, ya gotta give her a chance. Who’s she gonna meet way out there at Barrett’s Pass?”

“Not me! When a girl can pick me up, toss me over her shoulder and carry me off to some cave somewhere, I ain’t interested.”

“Now, Joe . . .”

“Ben!” came Roy Coffee’s voice from the edge of camp drawing their attention, stopping Hoss and Joe in mid-discussion, seeing their friend hurrying into camp.

“Roy?” Ben called rising from the table. “What’re you doing up here? Nothing wrong I hope.”

“Naw. Got some good news,” he said reining in his horse and dismounting. “You’ll never guess what’s happened. Never in a thousand years.”

Ben smiled at his friend as he approached. “Well?”

“Ya sure ya don’t wanna guess?”

“Roy!” came Ben’s exasperated tone as Roy shook his head.

“Boy, yer no fun,” the sheriff mumbled, making Hoss and Joe grin. “Well one of the things I get each month are dispatches from the various prisons, telling me what’s happened with the men sent there from my jail – whether they’ve been released or transferred or the like. It’s up ta me ta inform the relatives or victims.”

Ben’s smile dimmed a bit and his brows drew together. “And?”

“Well, just this mornin’ I was goin’ through the names on the latest list and who should I find? Red Twilight.”

“What about him?” Ben asked, his smile all but gone.

Roy’s smiled widened. “It ain’t what ya think, Ben. He was on a list all right. He was on the death list.”

“What?!” came from all three.

“That’s right. Written there plain as day.”

“How’d it happen, Roy?” Joe asked as Hoss seemed to have lost his voice.

“He was killed when a landslide destroyed the prison wagon he was in little over a month ago. It seems Mother Nature did us a favor.”

“You see, Hoss,” Joe said. “They couldn’t’ve seen Red in Genoa. He’s been dead for a month.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Hoss softly answered.

Ben’s smile bloomed again and he clasped Roy’s arm. “This is the best news, Roy.”

“I knew you’d be pleased. Had ta come out and tell ya myself.”

“And I’m glad you did,” said Ben. “ We should celebrate. Roy, come to supper tonight. The bearer of such good news should sit down to a fine dinner.”

“As much as I’d like ta, ’fraid I can’t, Ben. Ol’ Judge Waltham is coming into town tomorrow and I gotta get all my ducks in a row for his cases. Raincheck?”

Ben nodded. “Raincheck then.”

“Good. Well, gotta get back ta town. No tellin’ what Dooley’s doin’ in my absence. See ya around.”

Ben shook his hand and watched him head to his horse. “Thanks again, Roy.”

The sheriff waved, then mounted and headed out as Ben clapped his hands together and turned to his boys. “Well, don’t just stand there. One of you go find Adam and give him the good news.”

“I’ll go,” Joe quickly offered, sprinting toward Cochise and leaping aboard to hightail it out of camp.

“I ain’t seen that boy move that fast in a week,” Hoss noted, grabbing the canteen hanging from a peg on the lean-to.

“Well, what do you think?” Ben asked his middle son, a big smile wreathing his face as he draped an arm over his shoulder. “Looks like all that gossip was wrong.”

What did he think? Hoss didn’t really know. This was news he’d secretly been pinning for and now that it was true, well, it didn’t seem to make him feel any better. It didn’t seem right either to be excited over someone’s death, even someone like Red Twilight.

“I guess it ain’t sunk in yet,” Hoss managed, trying not to dampen Ben’s spirits. “I’m sure it will sometime in the middle of the night and I’ll hoot and holler and scare the lot of ya.”

“Holler all you want, son. It’s finally over,” Ben answered clapping Hoss on the shoulder as he made his way back to the makeshift table, picking up the clipboard as he sat. He never noticed that Hoss’ smile hadn’t quite reached his eyes.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” Hoss said replacing the canteen on the peg and slowly returned to work.

*****

“What do you mean he’s dead?” came from Adam before he could stop himself.

From out of nowhere, Joe had come rocketing toward him and, for an instant, he thought something was wrong. But then he’d seen the large smile on his brother’s face and relaxed. The news delivered, however, slapped him across the face and the first thing out of his mouth had been a question. He couldn’t miss the deflation that followed.

“That’s all Roy told us,” Joe answered, his previous good mood falling about his ears.

“Well, did anyone see the body? How was he identified?”

“I don’t know, Adam.”

“Well this is just damn peculiar,” came out as Adam rubbed his chin, a thousand more questions circling his head.

“What’s peculiar about it?” Joe began hotly, catching Adam’s attention. “Red Twilight is dead. Can’t you just take it for what it is – a good thing?”

Adam looked at Joe, wanting so to believe the news, but something just didn’t feel right.

Joe leaned forward in his saddle. “Look,” he started, “Red is dead and Hoss is free from having to think about him getting out. You heard him today, worried about some gossip. Don’t screw this up for him. I mean it.”

Adam narrowed his eyes, ready to retort unkindly to his younger brother, but then stopped himself. Hoss was free of that ever-present worry . . . if the report was true. He sighed.

 Sometimes I wish I didn’t need proof!

“You’re impossible,” Joe said with disgust, turning Cochise’s head.

“Okay, okay,” Adam quickly said, holding up his hands in defeat, trying his best to put aside the niggling feeling that was about to overtake him and force a happy look on his face. It must’ve worked because Joe stopped. “I’m sorry. It’s just that it seems so convenient.”

“Maybe so, but Hoss needs to know that you believe this, whether you do or don’t. He’s had a tough time of it.”

“I know that, Joe.”

“Well, then act like it!” Joe nearly shouted. “No matter what he says, he still thinks he killed Willie. With Red gone, there’s nothing to remind him. Maybe now he’ll forget.”

Adam knew there was little chance of that but he also knew that if he played along until he could get his own doubts in check, it might help Hoss. And that’s all he’d ever wanted to do in the first place. He finally nodded. “All right.”

Joe seemed to accept that. “That’s more like it. Now, you comin’ back with me? Pa was pretty keyed up to have a big dinner and all to celebrate.”

“Ah, no,” Adam said, still wrestling with all those unanswered questions. Bringing himself back to the present, he gave his brother the eye. “I’ve still got work to do . . . as do you. I believe you’re supposed to be helping brother Hoss load the lumber wagons.”

“Stickler,” Joe muttered, then turned Cochise’s head and took off.

“I heard that!” Adam shouted after the disappearing form of his younger brother, his quick smile slowly fading.

Holding tightly to Sport’s reins as he fidgeted, Adam couldn’t help going back over the news. Had anyone checked thoroughly? How were they sure? Did they just guess?

Cursing his inability to just let things go, Adam leaned back and took a good long look at a wisp of clouds moving across the blue sky. That it was only about noon suddenly came to him. His eyes narrowed as his mind worked out the details, then he gave out a real smile.

 No one will be the wiser.

Giving Sport his head, they galloped toward their first stop of the afternoon – the lumber camp. He’d make quick work of that, then head out to his second destination.

*****

“Hi, Adam,” Roy called, waving him down as he rode toward him.

“Roy,” Adam answered as he dismounted, tying Sport to the hitching rail.

“Just on my way ta have a late lunch. Interested?”

“May I have a word instead?”

Roy eyed him then nodded, pretty much knowing what this conversation was going to be about. “Of course, son. Come on in.” Opening the door, Roy led the way into his office; Adam closed the door behind them, watching Roy toss his hat onto the hat rack behind his desk. Roy caught Adam’s smile and chuckled. “Got it down to a near science now. Hardly ever miss. Want some coffee?”

“No thanks.”

“Then sit down and take a load off.” Roy sat first, watching as Adam hesitated then finally sat, nervously bouncing his hat off his knee.

Well, Roy had known this young man for a long time and it didn’t take someone with much smarts to know there was a problem. He supposed he could just let him sit here ‘til he was good and ready to speak up but Roy had business about town and Adam could wait until the cows came home before he’d say anything. He’d have to push the issue. “What’s the matter, son?” he finally asked watching him brush dust from his hat.

“Well,” Adam began, clearing his throat, “it’s this whole Red Twilight thing.”

“Didn’t yer Pa tell ya? He’s dead.”

“Yeah, I know. It just seems . . . well, it seems too . . .”

“Convenient?” Roy finished for him as Adam nodded. “Don’t I know it. That’s why I telegraphed the warden and asked him for all the details, ‘cause I knew either you or yer Pa would want ta know.” Reaching into his desk, he withdrew a three page telegram and handed it to Adam, who hastily grabbed it. “Red was on a chain gang o’ sorts. Seems this warden likes to put the prisoners ta work and was sendin’ em out ta the local salt quarry for a couple o’ days work. Well, it’s been rainin’ over there nigh on three months now and, according ta this telegram, there was a landslide that took out the prison wagon and killed everyone there – three guards and four prisoners. One of them prisoners was Red Twilight.”

“And they’re positive it was him?” Adam asked, not looking up from the telegram.

“Sure as they can ever be, I reckon.”

Adam stiffened and looked up. “What does that mean?”

“Well it seems that all the bodies was so mangled and bloated by the time they was found even their own relatives couldn’t identify them.”

Adam was getting antsy now. If relatives couldn’t identify them, then who could? “Then how do they know one of them was Red?” he said, his tone harsh and accusatory.

“Now hold onto yer britches,” Roy said, understanding Adam was upset but not willing to let him get away with anything yet. “All them prisoners have some identifying marks along with the number on their workshirts. All the men were accounted for.”

“Shirts can be changed, Roy. Numbers can be altered.”

“For what reason?” Roy asked. “There was three guards and four prisoners. That’s what was found. End of story.”

Adam remained silent for a moment, not wanting to take his worries out on Roy, and rubbed his forehead. Sighing, he tapped the telegram against his leg a few times then dropped it onto the desk. “Do you believe this warden, Roy?” he finally asked looking his friend in the eye. “Do you know him?”

“Now I ask ya – why would he lie?”

“I don’t know!” Adam nearly shouted, quickly looking away. “Red could’ve paid him off or something.”

“Adam . . .” Roy stopped as his friend pushed himself to his feet and dropped his hat on the desk, beginning to pace the small office, stuffing his hands in his back pockets. “Adam, Red Twilight is dead. What more do ya need?”

“I need to see the body myself. That’s the only way to know for sure that he’s really dead.”

“That ain’t possible. They’re already buried.”

“Then how do we know . . .”

“He’s dead, Adam!” came out harsher than he’d wanted but Roy continued. “I don’t know how else ta tell ya, son.” He picked up the telegram. “This here’s from the warden hisself. He’s claimin’ Red’s dead. Ain’t got nothin’ else ta go on.” Adam sighed again. “Boy, ya need to relax about this. Red Twilight is dead. Plain and simple. Don’t fret about him no more. Hoss is safe.”

Adam nodded as he ran a hand down his face angry at himself more than anything. “Have you told Mary?”

“I sent her a telegram.”

“Telegram?” he said, looking back toward Roy.

“She left town about a week ago. Couldn’t take the stares and comments no more and left for Genoa. Changed her name, too. Can’t rightly remember what it is now but she just wanted ta put behind her all that happened.”

“No loss,” Adam muttered as he returned to the desk to retrieve his hat.

“Now, Adam . . ,” Roy began but was cut off.

“The lady waited a whole day, Roy, before telling us what Red was planning.”

“She done helped ya when ya needed it.”

“Yes, but who put us in that position in the first place? She did. Things might’ve come out differently if she’d just followed through.”

“Well, that’s in the past and cain’t be changed. She’s gone along with Red and moved on. It’s about time ya did the same thing.”

Adam looked away, that niggling feeling still present but a bit more subdued than before.

Roy rose and slowly approached him, clasping his shoulder. “Go on home and enjoy the news, son. Ya ain’t got nothin’ ta worry from him no more.”

“Are you sure?” Adam asked as Roy smiled. The sheriff hadn’t seen Adam like this in a long time – like a little boy wanting to be reassured.

“I’m sure.”

Adam gave the Sheriff a nod then held out his hand; Roy eagerly took it. “Thanks, Roy. I guess . . . I guess I just needed to hear that.”

“That’s what I’m here for. Come in anytime.”

Plopping his hat on his head, Adam quietly left, pulling the brim down against the afternoon sun. Maybe Roy was right. Maybe he just needed to move on and quit worrying so much. He stepped toward Sport and thought about how a brisk ride home might help clear his brain. It didn’t. In fact, he was more concerned than before.

Chiding himself for being too ornery to let something go, he threw himself into his work for the rest of the day, trying to take his mind off all the things it kept conjuring up, like Red spying on them from the distant hills or skulking around the house just waiting for a good shot.

Joe tried talking to him once or twice then gave up. He’d never understand his oldest brother. They’d just gotten some of the greatest news and it made his brother more worried than before. He just didn’t get it.

*****

The gun barrel was all he could see and he didn’t dare blink. 

 This was it.

 This was the end of everything he knew. 

 “Maybe I didn’t do a hundred percent job on your brother the first time,” came the familiar words, “but I guess it’s better this way – two for one. First I get you then I finish him. Now drop the gun.”

 He began to sweat; could feel it running down his face and neck and soaking his shirt, and thought how he’d been here before, many times before, and why couldn’t he change it just this once?! He’d seen that bullet so many times speed towards him, heard that awful sound of splitting air as it careened toward its final destination, and not once had he been able to close his eyes.

 On cue, his heart began to beat faster and his breath came in great gulps; he knew without thinking that he wouldn’t be able to move this time anymore than he could move all the times before. For an instant his eyes shifted to the man on the stair, to that devil smile that seemed to spread from ear-to-ear and to the laugh that echoed in his brain. 

 It was here that that man’s face usually began to melt, leaving behind a shock of red hair and nothing else except a finger to squeeze the trigger, to let loose the bullet that raced down the barrel; that sent that deadly piece of lead toward him ready to end his days upon the earth. And here it came once more speeding across a second. He felt the impact and heard himself screaming . . .

Adam shot up in bed, the bunched up sheets dropping from him to pool in his lap, his breath coming in quick startled gasps as he balanced himself on shaky arms. Pushing himself against the headboard, he dropped his head into his hands to rub away the remnants of that awful dream, that dream that was finding its way back into his subconscious after all these months.

Not bothering to light the lamp, he swung legs over the side and focused on getting his breathing in order. After a few moments, he stood and made his way to the washbasin to splash cold water on his sweaty face.

“Damn,” came a mutter as he lowered his head and closed his eyes, quick to reopen them when a shock of red hair filled his vision.

Shivering, he dried himself off and wrapped himself in his robe, then headed downstairs. Making a beeline for the brandy decanter, he downed one drink in a gulp but took more time with the second, swishing it around the glass a few moments before finishing it off and moving toward the dining room. Curiosity sparked when he spied a low light coming from the kitchen, soon to be followed by surprise when he saw who was sitting at the small table by the stove.

“Hey, big brother,” was all Hoss said, not looking up as he fingered his glass of milk.

“Hey, yourself,” Adam answered, rinsing out his own glass before making his way toward the little table. “What’cha doing up?” he asked sitting across from his brother noting the sad look on his face.

“Had a nightmare,” came the quiet answer.

Adam nodded. “Me, too,” he admitted as Hoss glanced at him.

“Really? What was yours about?”

“I’ll give you one guess,” Adam said with a smirk.

Hoss returned a frown. “Red Twilight.”

“Bingo.”

“What’s with us, Adam?” Hoss asked with a shake of his head. “We done heard the best news today – Red is dead and neither one of us can believe it.” Hoss looked up when Adam remained silent and he gave him a slight grin. “Ya don’t havta say nothin’ fer me ta know yer thinkin’ that same thing so don’t try ta deny it.”

Adam smiled sheepishly at that. His brother knew him well. “I wasn’t supposed to say anything out of respect for you.”

“Joe, huh?”

“Joe.”

Hoss nodded and took a sip of milk. “He means well.”

“I know.”

Silence followed for a bit, each man lost in thought.

“Do ya think he’s really dead?” Hoss asked. “I mean really?”

Ah, there was the question and Adam hesitated. The truth sounded so harsh and unrelenting and he really didn’t want to worry his brother, but he knew it would be all that Hoss would believe. And he deserved the truth above all else. “No,” finally came in a low voice.

Hoss sighed. “Me neither.”

Adam felt for his brother. This had all started because Willie Twilight decided to use Hoss to kill himself. Now the both of them were embroiled in bad memories and worry and the sad part was they figured, deep down, it might never end.

“So what’re we going do about it?” Adam finally asked as Hoss shrugged.

“Be watchful until one day that little feelin’ ya get along yer spine goes away. It’s all we can do.”

“And not let Joe and Pa see that it’s worrying us,” Adam added.

“Think we can get away with that?” Hoss asked.

“We’ll just have too. There isn’t any other way.”

“I’m game,” Hoss answered determination in his voice.

“Me, too, brother,” Adam answered back, both realizing a contract had been born that would never be broken.

“I don’t know about you but I feel a little better about this,” Hoss said as Adam nodded. In truth that little niggling feeling had settled a bit. “It feels better ta know that someone else understands.”

“The power of two is always better than just one,” Adam stated. “But don’t think too hard on it.”

“Naw. That’s yer job.” Hoss smiled at his brother who returned it both satisfied for the moment. “Well, we best get back ta bed. We got a lot of work ta do over the next few weeks if Pa wants ta drag us out ta Bud’s.”

“Oh, joy,” Adam said as they rose from the table and headed toward the great room.

“Now, Adam,” Hoss began wrapping an arm about his shoulders. “I’m gonna be there this time and I’ll do my best ta see ya don’t get roped into anythin’ stupid.”

“Your best? I’m depending on you, little brother. You have to stop me when Bud gets my goat and I decide I can cut a tunnel through a solid rock face in five minutes.”

Hoss laughed. “Well, maybe I’ll havta re-think this.”

“Hoss . . . “

“Older brother, ain’t no one can stop ya once ya get yer dander up and you know it.”

Adam nodded then laughed and clapped his brother on the back. “Well, you can try.”

Hoss smiled warmly at him. “That I’ll do, big brother. That I’ll do.”

Adam returned the look, both brothers holding the gaze for a moment before heading toward the stairs.

They shared a silent trust born of years of relying on each other as they’d traveled to their new home. It could get them through most anything and it would get them through this as nothing else could. Brothers they might be but they were friends to the end and understood each other more than they could say . . . or had a need to say.

Slowly they made their way back to bed and, hopefully, to a dreamless rest.

*****

“Excuse me. Is there a Mary Wickham staying here?”

Edna Forbrush, proprietor of the Battle Boarding House in Genoa, looked this man up one side and down the other, her eyes moving slowly back to his clean shaven smiling face in one long stare. He seemed innocent enough. She cleared her throat.

“We have a Mary Bradley but no Mary Wickham,” she responded curtly, wondering if this man knew Mary from her line of work. She may not approve of a boarder who worked in a saloon, but money was money. “She’s not here right now. Would you like to leave a message?”

“Does she work in town?” he asked, successfully ignoring her question.

“At the Delta Queen saloon on the north side of town.”

“Much obliged,” the man said, settling his hat on his head as he opened the door and stepped through.

Curiosity getting the best of her, Edna followed after him into the bright afternoon sun. “Are you a relative or friend?” she called after him, catching a slightly twisted smile on his face as he turned toward her. She shivered at the look and involuntarily stepped back.

“I knew her fiancé,” he answered as he pulled the brim of his hat down low, shielding his eyes. “He was like a brother to me. Afternoon, ma’am.”

Edna’s eyes never left the man’s back as he strolled down the street, down the street in the opposite direction of the Delta Queen.

“How very odd,” she whispered then shrugged and stepped back inside.

No matter how odd, she’d have to leave a note for Mary. Wouldn’t have it said that she didn’t pass along messages to her boarders. Closing the door, she reached into her desk to pull out a piece of paper.

***The End***

Author’s Note: Thank you’s to all who requested another part and there were many of you. Hope you like this one.

1The Hoad family appeared in the second season episode “The Spitfire”

 2Dr. Thomas J. Hodges, aka Tom Bell, was a well educated young man who decided that robbing stagecoaches made quicker money. His most famous hold-up attempt was in August 1856 when he and his gang attempted to rob $100,000 in gold. A firefight ensued – a woman passenger was killed, the driver was shot in the arm and another passenger was shot in the leg. The Shotgun’s quick action saved the gold. It took several months of hunting before Tom Bell was captured. The posse gave him a few hours to write some last letters then quickly hung him. There’s frontier justice for you – Stagecoach Days by Vickie Hunter/Elizabeth Hamma (1963)

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